Pivot of India’s Act East Asia Policy, Malaysia Needs to Focus on the Marginalized Indian Diaspora

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Image Courtesy: The Malaysian Times

India and Malaysia has been enjoying geo-cultural relations since the antiquity. These geo-cultural relations have been concertized more with the Indian diaspora’s migration during the colonial time. However, after the independence the Indian daipora have been facing several challenges. With the launch of Look East Policy, the bilateral relations have been improved significantly in many sectors, and it became the pivot of the India’s Look East policy. But the day to day life of the Indian daipsora due to Malaysia’s ‘sons of the soil policy’, have become bad to worse. Hence, the major challenge of bilateral relations is socio-economic marginaliation and religious persecution of Indian dialspora in Malaysia. Therefore, for the concretization of bilateral relations, Malaysia needs to focus on the marginalization of the Indian diaspora.

India’s Look East Policy was launched in the 1990s, with the objectives of the heightening of political, economic and security cooperation. It was rechristened as Act East Policy during the 12th ASEAN-India Summit, November 2014 (Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar). It has been focussed on the extended neighbourhood encompassing the Asia-Pacific region. Under the Act East Policy, the Indian government identified three major areas of cooperation -three ‘Cs’ i.e., commerce, connectivity and culture with members of ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific countries. Indian policy has been reciprocated positively and constructively by incorporating India at the bilateral and regional institutional mechanisms in ASEAN (sectorial dialogue, full dialogue, and summit level partner), ASEAN Regional Forum (1996) and East Asia Summit (2005).

The Indians comprise of 8 percent of the total Malaysian population. Despite being a considerable population, the Indian diaspora has been facing a lot of socio-economic and religious discrimination in Malaysia.

India and Malaysia have been completed 60 years of diplomatic relations. During the last 60 years, both the countries despite having geo-cultural relations, have seen many ups and downs. Since Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country. Indian ethnics have been contributing about 8 % to the Malaysian population. The marginalization of Indian ethnics in Malaysia has been ignored in the Indian foreign policy. People to people contact always been used to remain a decisive factor of success of any policy.

The day one, the Malaysian Prime Minister Razak had taken over the reins of the government on 3 April 2009, he has initiated many efforts to fortify the bilateral relations with India. High-level visits are one the outstanding efforts. Earlier, he had visited India twice, first one in the January 2010 and the second one in December 2012 to attend the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. During the India-ASEAN Summit in Nay Pyi Taw (November 2014), on the sidelines of 25th ASEAN Summit, both Indian and Malaysian PMs met and agreed to enhance the strategic relationship.

The economic relations which had been at the lowest ebb before the launch of Look East Policy, but in the due course of time, the same has been improved significantly. Now, these economic relations between both the countries have become more vibrant. During 2000–2013, Malaysia has remained the 19th largest investor in India. Its cumulative FDI inflows have been stood at the value at US$ 618.37 million. It has been anticipated that Malaysian investments likely to move in India’s various sectors held at the value of US$ 6 billion.

On the other had, the Indian investment in Malaysia stood at the value of US$ 2.05 billion in different sectors. About 100 Indian companies have been working in Malaysia. About 70 Indian joint ventures have been operating over there. More than 50 Indian IT companies have also been made strong presence strategic forays in Malaysia.

Before the Look East policy, the bilateral trade was at the lowest ebb. It was stood at the value of US$ 0.6 billion in 1992, which has been increased to US$13.32 billion in 2012. Currently, Malaysia has become the third largest trading partner of India among the ASEAN countries and the value of trade reached to $16.9 billion in 2014-15. However, the same has shown downward trends which decreased from US$ 16.9 billion in 2014-15 to $12.8 billion in 2015-16. The trade balance is in favour of Malaysia.

The bilateral defense cooperation between both the countries has been progressively grown over the years. In 1993, a MoU on Defence Cooperation was signed. High levels visits such as defence ministers and service chiefs, regular defence cooperation meetings and the staff talks between the three services, training, joint exercises and port calls have been some of the characteristics of the strategic engagements. In 2010, the strategic partnership was signed between both the countries.

The year of 2017, will remain monumental in Indo-Malaysian relations. The current visit of Malaysian PM of five days (31 March to 4 April 2017), will be in the backdrop of completion of the 60th anniversary of India-Malaysia diplomatic relations and the 25 years of Indo-ASEAN ties. During the visit, PM Najib Razak had met Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari. The Malaysian PM Najib’s delegation includes a dozen of very high-level cabinet ministers and a huge business team comprising of 80-100 members representing various sectors, where they intended to heighten the industrial cooperation. These areas included such as infrastructure, telecom and finance etc.

A joint statement has been issued during the current visit. In this joint statement, the two leadership of the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to heighten the cooperation in the areas of defence and security as well as in socio-economic sectors in general and health and education in particular. Both countries committed to sharing a mutual interests in cooperating for peace, prosperity, and security of the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. They called upon the international community to strengthen multilateral regimes to address effectively the challenges posed by terrorism. Both countries reaffirmed to focus on the tourism, cultural links, and vibrant people-to-people links.

Malaysia has been the central pivot of India’s Act East Policy. After the initiation of Look East Policy, a paradigmatic shift has been witnessed in Malaysia’s Indian policy. Malaysia has perpetually supported India’s Look East policy and has emphasized to intensify cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international level. After realizing the Indo-Malaysian long engagement and association through Look East policy, Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Syed Hamid Albar (1999–2008) once said, “Malaysia welcomes India’s ‘Look East Policy’ and its desire to develop closer cooperation with countries in East Asia. …. Malaysia is also pleased to see India playing a significant role in East Asia Summit meetings.”

Malaysia’s response to Look East policy has been remained very favorable. However, there are certain issues which occasionally leaving an acerbic effects on Indo-Malaysian relation for the given of growing intolerance and discrimination against the Indian ethnic population in Malaysia. Nonetheless, growing economic relations, increasing visits by the Malaysian leaders to India and its support on Kashmir issue, support for a permanent seat in the Security Council ad for India’s entry into ASEAN Regional Forum provided enough testimony of Malaysia’s favorable response to India’s East Asian drive since 1992. The only issue like the marginalization and discriminatory treatment of Indian ethnic community in Malaysia, has been one of the serious concerns for Indian commentators, strategic thinkers and policy practitioners.

Malaysia Needs to Focus on the Marginalized Indian Diaspora

The Indians comprise of 8 percent of the total Malaysian population. Despite being a considerable population, the Indian diaspora has been facing a lot of socio-economic and religious discrimination in Malaysia. About 70% of the total two million Indians diaspora has been leading a life of poverty. Sons of the soil policy under constitutional provisions has been followed by Malaysia particularly regarding education, jobs and welfare schemes. It has been argued that besides socio-economic and political discriminations, religious intolerance and persecution have been the major sources of discontentment among the Indian people. During the last couple of years, the exponential growing religious chauvinism and Islamic conservatism had increased the sense of insecurity among Indian people. Hence, socio-economic and political discriminations and religious persecution, have been marginalizing the Indian people.

At last, it can be concluded that India and Malaysia have been sharing their bilateral relations since the antiquity. Though these relations have seen many ups and down since their independence but with the initiations of Look East and Act East, bilateral ties have been improved significantly regarding political, economic, strategic defence. The Malaysian PM’s visit would prove a milestone in bilateral relations in the backdrop of completion of 60 years of diplomatic relations and 25 years of regional cooperation with ASEAN. Malaysia is a pivot of Indian Act East Policy. After the initiation of this policy, a positive response on the part of Malaysia towards India has been witnessed. But the socio-economic marginalization and religious persecution of Indian people in Malaysia despite being a considerable share of the population are the causes for concern. Hence, paying heed to the real problems being faced by the Indian diaspora, would help in the concretization of bilateral relations, as well as strengthening of the Act East policy.